New study: the bio-based polymer turnover €13 billion in 2016

Michael Carus © nova-institute

The worldwide production capacity for bio-based polymers grew by 4% to 6.6 million tonnes from 2015 to 2016. This represents a share of 2% of the global polymer market. The bio-based polymer turnover was about €13 billion worldwide in 2016 compared to €11 billion in 2014. Production capacity of bio-based polymers is forecasted to increase from 6.6 million tonnes in 2016 to 8.5 million tonnes by 2021. To say this is the latest report published by the German nova-Institute whose title is “Bio-based Building Blocks and Polymers. Global Capacities and Trends 2016-2021”.

“The development of the bio-based polymer market – write Michael Carus and colleagues – aligns to the overall growth rate of the polymer market as a whole. In contrast to a 10% annual growth between 2012 and 2014, the capacity growth data now show a 4% annual growth rate from 2015 to 2021. This is almost the same as for the overall global polymer capacity. The main reasons for this slower increase in capacity are low oil prices, poor political support and a slower than expected growth of the capacity utilization rate.

Not all bio-based polymers are biodegradable, but some important ones are, e.g. polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), polylactic acid (PLA) and starch blends. Strong political support can only be found in Italy and France for biodegradable solutions in the packaging sector. In this sector, the global demand for biodegradable packaging still shows a double digit growth. Additional demand could come from the increasing microplastic problem (marine littering), but so far biodegradable plastics have not benefitted from this debate”.

Strong political support can only be found in Italy and France for biodegradable solutions in the packaging sector. In this sector, the global demand for biodegradable packaging still shows a double digit growth

The most dynamic development is foreseen for the new bio-based polymers polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), which belong to the big family of different polymers. PHA production capacity was still small in 2016 and is projected to almost triple by 2021. The second most dynamic development is foreseen for polyamides (PA), whose production capacity is expected to almost double by 2021. Bio-based drop-in PET and new bio-based polymer PLA are showing approximately 10% annual growth rates.

Bio-based drop-in PET and new bio-based polymer PLA are showing approximately 10% annual growth rates

In addition to bio-based polymers, the nova market report studies seventeen bio-based building blocks as precursor of bio-based polymers. The total production capacity of the bio-based building blocks reviewed in the report was 2.4 million tonnes in 2016 and is expected to reach 3.5 million tonnes in 2021, which means an annual growth of 8%.

According to the report “The building block market shows a more vivid development than the bio-based polymer market. The bio-based building block annual capacity growth rate is twice as high. The most dynamic developments are spearheaded by succinic acid and 1,4-BDO, with monoethylene glycol (MEG) as a distant runner-up. Bio-based MEG, L-lactic acid (L-LA), ethylene and epichlorohydrin are relatively well established on the market. Most investment in new bio-based polymer capacities will take place in Asia because of better access to feedstock and a promotive political framework. Europe’s share and North America’s share are projected to decrease slightly. Most bio-based polymers are consumed by the packaging industry. The major part of this is rigid packaging (bottles and others) and the rest as flexible packaging (films and others). This is not surprising since bio-based PET (mostly used to produce bottles) is one of the biggest bio-based polymers in terms of capacity”.

The packaging industry has a considerable interest in biodegradability since packaging is only needed for short time use but in big quantities. This contributes to the accumulation of waste. Biodegradable polymers can be one possible solution to solve this problem. However, besides the packaging sector, bio-based polymers are also used in many different other market segments, mainly in durable applications such as construction or high-performance automotive applications.

 

by Giorgio Zani

 

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